GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Five foreign delegates of a fact-finding mission were held by authorities in a checkpoint in Koronadal City, Thursday morning.
The delegation was on its way to Davao City after the four-day visit to Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu town in Sultan Kudarat province to investigate the killing of eight T’boli-Dulangan Manobo after members of the military allegedly opened fire at their community on December 3, last year.
Police and military personnel manning a checkpoint in Baryo Otso, Koronadal City, ordered all participants to show their identification cards, including the foreign delegates and members of the media.
Authorities confiscated the IDs issued by the Bureau of Immigration for foreign delegates Tawanda Chandiwana and Adam Shaw who are church workers from the United Methodist Church.
They were escorted to the Bureau of Immigration Office in General Santos City for verification of identities and were later released after they were cleared.
According to Julie Jamora of Gabriela USA, Police Inspector Junrey Gatura told them during the investigation that they were “suspected terrorists” after they went to Lake Sebu, which the authorities claimed as an “ISIS area.”
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan condemned the incident as a case of “harassment” and an “attack against human rights defenders.”
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said, “Harassment and other attacks against human rights defenders during fact-finding missions show the intent of the government to cover-up human rights violations.”
Palabay cited another case of investigating teams that were held by authorities, “On February 19, other participants to the said mission were denied entry to the Lumad communities in Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur by soldiers from the 75th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army.”
Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao, who is also part of the delegation, said "no laws were violated" in the conduct of the mission.
“Is seeking the truth now a crime? The ISM activity is only validating reports of abuses. No laws were violated. Even if Mindanao is under martial law, this does not stop human rights advocates, concerned groups or individuals to look into reported rights violations committed by state forces against the people,” Casilao said.
“It seems that they are preventing us from going to these areas to hide the real face of martial law from the public,” he added.
The fact-finding mission was spearheaded by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and the Mindanaoans for Civil Liberties. Simultaneous investigations were conducted in different areas in Mindanao where human rights abuses were reported.
All the delegates will meet to collate the results of the simultaneous missions during the 7th Mindanao Human Rights Summit in Davao City on Friday, February 23.